Copyright 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The day of the leather helmet is long gone and there's little arguing that today's football headgear is more protective than ever.
But while the newest gear prevents some types of head injuries, there are questions about how much it protects against concussions.
Last summer, a study of more than 1,300 players on football teams at 36 Wisconsin high schools found that players wearing older helmets received just as much protection from concussion as players with flashy new models, said study author Timothy McGuine, senior scientist and research coordinator for the University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Center in Madison.
"The helmet technology is advanced as it can be. They've done a wonderful job. We don't have skull fractures in football," he said in the report to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.
"But I don't know how much padding can be put in to prevent the brain from sloshing around inside the cranium."
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies also released a report concluding there is little medical evidence that youth equipment protects against risks of concussions.
"I don't know if equipment is really the key," Dr. Tom Pascuzzi, a volunteer for the La Cueva High football team, told the Journal.
"It's the blow itself. Sometimes it can be just a millimeter here or there when the impact occurs that causes a concussion.
"I think it's more around proper tackling technique; keeping the head up, not leading with the head ... and making players, parents, coaches and referees aware of the significant health risks due to head injuries."
Still, there are sporting goods companies that claim their equipment offers better protection against concussion than older models.
And that is what U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is addressing.
"If you claim that you can completely prevent concussions, then I think that you're probably making a false claim," Udall, D-N.M., told the Journal recently. "The kind of contact that you can make in these sports can be so strong that there's no way to prevent them with equipment. We want kids to play; we just want them to be safe and make smart decisions."
The Senate - with Udall taking the lead - is looking into the issue of concussions and the marketing of sports safety equipment. Udall says his bill, co-sponsored by John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), is an attempt to create more awareness about concussions, and to give the Federal Trade Commission authority to pursue civil penalties against companies that make false injury prevention claims to help sell helmets and other sports equipment.
"What's very important is for people to understand what a concussion is, how it's caused and what action has to be taken," Udall said. "I think the piece of legislation we've done has helped raise awareness in that area with young people, with families, with parents."
The bill has a lot of support - from the NBA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, neurology and pediatric experts, the Brain Injury Association, the Cleveland Clinic and a lot of the players' associations.
"We're going to push for legislation this year to get it out of the committee and onto the floor," Udall said.
He says he's an advocate of kids playing sports, "especially living in a society that every day has increasing problems with obesity and diabetes," but parents have the right to know the truth about sports equipment and concussions.
He wants to make sure everyone understands that if a company "calls themselves 'anti-concussion sports gear,' you really are misleading consumers about what can happen."
Josh Groves, technical director for the New Mexico Youth Soccer Association, saidsoccer headgear became popular three or four years ago in youth leagues, but research showed it didn't prevent concussions. In fact, he said it likely caused more injuries.
"Research showed a concussion is caused by shaking of the brain on the inside," he said. "So what the headgear can do is give a false sense of confidence and make a player more reckless. So we're not advocates of that protective gear."